Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown

U.S. THEATRICAL RELEASE DATE:  8/24/1977
Director:  Bill Melendez

The Peanuts gang goes to summer camp in their most action-packed, least depression-inducing adventure to date!

STORY:  School's out (for summer, not forever) and the great outdoors beckons.  No one is anticipating their time at Camp Remote more than wishy-washy Charlie Brown, who imagines that the experience, in addition to being rugged, will imbue his spirit with the assertiveness that he so desperately lacks and desires.  As is evidenced by his behavior at a rest stop, when he lets every other kid get back on the bus ahead of him, only to have the bus drive off without him.  Forced to endure an uneasy ride on the back of Snoopy's bad-ass scooter, he still arrives at camp 'round the same time as the others--just in time to commence acclimation to a strange new environment.

It is Charlie Brown's dream to attain the status of alpha male, while avoiding the pitfalls of inflexibility and insensitivity.  Three classic examples of what he doesn't want to become soon make themselves known and overblown:  the camp bullies.  Tall Skinny is joined by his cronies Short Fat and Average Build, and they waste no time in belittling Charlie Brown before moving on and making all the other kids feel like ants who've wandered into the pachyderm plaza.  What's worse, the bullies are tailed by a coarse cat named Brutus, who terrorizes poor Snoopy and Woodstock.

Camp Remote is a nice enough place to sew wallets and race in sacks, but the crown jewel of activities is the river raft race.  (Anything that alliterative has to be awesome, aye?)  The boys (Charlie  Brown, Linus, Schroeder and Franklin) occupy one raft, while the girls (Peppermint Patty, Lucy, Sally and Marcie) ride in another.  Snoopy and Woodstock are also participating, sharing an inner tube, while the bullies three will be tormenting the water in their own special "raft," complete with outboard motor, radar and sonar.  As if the technological boosts didn't provide enough of an unfair advantage, they wait until nightfall to deflate each competitors rafts.

Friggin' jerks.

The ill-gotten head start proves pointless when their engine sputters out after mere seconds.  Although they quickly fix the problem, their boisterous celebration over such a basic-ass accomplishment ends abruptly when the boat--and their heads--crash into a wooden dock.  A predicament that they will not extricate themselves quite so easily.

When I sit down to watch a cartoon involving river rafting, I assume hijinks are imminent.  I anticipate bullies cutting each and every corner in a shameless attempt to win.  I foresee danger signs being futzed with, placing the good guys in harms way, all appearing doomed I tell you doomed until the dog among them saves the day with trademark aplomb.   Can't say I was expecting the snowfall during summer, but I was totally waiting with held breath for the horrific storm that tossed the riders to and fro, sending the kids ashore and separating Snoopy from Woodstock.  Which, let's be honest, is like separating cheese from pizza.  Snoopy is so sad sans his yellow buddy, so utterly lost, that he can only go a few paddles back into the water before heading back to land and deciding to hike the terrain.

Skies cleared, the teams take inventory and prepare to re-enter the race.  Charlie Brown worries over not seeing Snoopy and Woodstock post-storm, and when he locates their abandoned watercraft, decides to put the race on hold until the two animals can be found.  The girls agree to join the search--after a democratic vote, of course--and each group breaks off to traverse the woods.

After a fruitless day, the boys locate a swanky, unoccupied cabin and make it their home for the evening.  The girls, who have been equally as fortunate in finding S & W, join them just in time for a hearty dinner of dry cereal.  It's Thanksgiving all over again, what with a displeased Peppermint Patty and a chastened Chuck.  Charlie Brown however finds himself unable to remain equanimous in the face of such thoughtless behavior!  He is fighting the urge to sock Peppermint Patty in her fat baccal cavity!  A rhubarb is brewing!  All is forgotten and forgiven, however, the moment they hear a knock on the cabin door--it's Snoopy and Woodstock!  (Much like death, you don't have to search them out; they'll find you.)  For awhile, all is peachy.  Waltzes are danced, classic folk songs are butchered by tone-deaf teapot humans, and the race is the furthest thing from any grapefruit in the troop.  But then bedtime beckons.  The girls vote out the boys, despite the fact that the fellas found the cabin to begin with.  Well...it ain't right, it ain't fair, but as the socially and politically dominant gender you can't really complain too too much, guys.  Sleep in the snow tonight, run the country tomorrow.

Over breakfast, Charlie Brown is aghast to discover that the other kids seem to have forgotten about the raft race.  Just as he begins chastising everyone for lacking that play-to-win spirit, snow balls pelt the side of his big ol' melon.  Darn you, bullies!  With a renewed conviction, the gang makes their way to their rafts...only to see that the bullies are already there.  They straight up destroy the boys' ride and send the girls raft into the water.  Gosh darn you, bullies! 

Charlie Brown fails to lead the human chain to the girls raft, but Pep Pat retrieves the ride (after informing Chuck yet again what a massive failure he is, by all quantifiable measures).  The girls are all prepared to leave the boys pruning in their own misfortune, until a democratic vote finally determines they can be permitted aboard.  Out of nowhere, Peppermint Patty declares Chuck the leader of the newly-unisex vessel. It's a dream come true, blockhead!  Onward to victory! 

Snoopy sure could use some help, 'cause he's fooled by one of the most blatantly devious signs ever to be.  The rest of the gang are tricked simply by their own lack of cynicism (and short memories).  A rip current carries them to the top of a watermill that has been jammed with a plank of wood.  It's all synchronized screaming until fearless leader Chuck B. climbs down the structure and pries the board loose.  Onward!

With the finish line now in sight, a reinvigorated Charlie Brown announces his pared-down plan:  boys row like hell, girls lay low.  This proves wildly effective, until the imminence of immortality proves too much for the girls to handle--they leap up in the raft, arms extended outward in the universal gesture of the overjoyed, sending the boys into the water yet again.

With our heroes taking an unscheduled soak, the bullies retake the lead, despite manning a craft that resembles two green beans attached to one another.  It can't be, but it is:  these dastardly bastards are primed for what the French call victoire.  Then...their beans sink.

Enter Snoopy.

Slowly and surely, the beagle and the bird are coasting along on their inner tube, barely realizing they are now in plum position.  The ideal finish is ruined, though, when Crookshanks' illegitimate spawn punctures the tube with a fang-like nail.  Woodstock recovers promptly, fashioning together a small twig-n-leaf vessel that proves impregnable under the aegis of Snoopy.

Woodstock wins!  A bird triumphed in the river raft race!  Still makes more sense than David Arquette winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship!  (Not to mention Patty seems to think it's just the dearest thing ever.) 

The fact that he lost again doesn't deter Charlie Brown because this time it wasn't his fault!  Hey, he was actually leading the team to certain victory until those stupid girls got all prematurely excited!  On the last day of camp, as all the kids say one last goodbye to the site of Woodstock's greatest triumph, Chuck is inspired to deliver a "the reason I don't suck" speech.  It's impassioned, heartfelt, hopeful and...the bus drives off and leaves him standing there.

It was a short-lived boost in self-esteem, Charlie Brown.  9

ANIMATION:  Melendez and co. excelled at drawing and coloring realistic landscapes.  But I do love it when they dare a little, and in Race For Your Life, they play it pretty safe.  The notable exception comes during the end credits--somebody got hold of a crazy dose.  Also, who doesn't dig a bikes-eye view of life?  9

MUSIC:  After being passed over for Snoopy, Come Home, Vince Guaraldi was the creative team's choice to score their next feature film.  The intention was never to move on from Guaraldi's fever-stricken jazz; simply to experiment with a more mainstream sound.  Before production on film three could even begin, however, the man known as Dr. Funk died at the age of 47, collapsing in his motel room after performing the first of two sets at Butterfield's Nightclub in Menlo Park, CA.  The filmmakers looked to composer Ed Bogas, who does a more than adequate job, adding flute trills and trumpet blasts to a rather Jerry Reed-y theme.  Another stand out contribution is the fuzzy, oscillating guitar that hearkens back to Bogas' days as a member of the United States of America.  Comfortable and comforting.  Much like the film itself.  9

VOICES:  Duncan Watson initially grates as Charlie Brown, but he does improve throughout.  Huh.  Kinda like the character does in the film.  8.  Gail M. Davis does a point better as his perpetually-disenchanted little sister.  Melanie Kohn is relatively unspectacular as Lucy (understandable, as she doesn't have much to work with; 7.5) but her distaste for CB is ceaselessly hysterical.

The bullies (voiced by Tom Muller, Kirk Jue and Jordan Warren) are as obnoxious as dropping a piece of peach pie on the floor.  (Despite what Homer Simpson claims, floor pie is not mmm-worthy.)  Liam Martin is a nice, if sadly restrained Linus (8) but poor Greg Felton got a rock when he was picked to voice Schroeder (5).

This leaves Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman) and Marcie (Jimmy Aherns) and what a perfect pair of cherries atop an already piquant treat.  Brotman's reading of the word "chimney!" was achieved when Bill Melendez put a live mouse down the back of the kid's shirt while he stood at the microphone.  I'm supposing.  One coin in two characters, Patty and Marcie could have not only sustained a comic strip on their own, they could have easily sustained a movie on their own. 

HELLO MUDDA, HELLO FADDA

--Lucy's languorous longing for a goodnight smooch inspires what is arguably the film's comic highlight:  Snoopy, who has somehow heard her from his tent outside, comes into the girls cabin to dispense smooches.  Good and well is the way of the walk until he does the "ballerina beagle" onto Peppermint Patty's waterbed.  Shenanigans ensue!  The entire situation is the opposite of restful!  Then Marcie says, "Sir, you're making too much noise.  Can't you just kiss him good night and let it go at that?"  WOW.

--Waterbed leads to water head.

--Snoopy and Woodstock's reunion warms the heart.  You could lay a Pop-Tart on your chest and have a nice toasty treat in just a minute or so.

--Snoopy is so thrilled he briefly turns into Beagle Jesus!

--

Munchin' on some...Pagit?  Pagu?  What the world type name is that for a cereal?  Is it Italian?  Do you pour on some sauce instead of milk?  Grossness.

--I love Charlie Brown's random elbow scratch whilst chatting with Franklin.  Very third-base coach.  Possibly also racist.

--

WHAM!  Now that is a cereal name.  Really wakes you up before you go-go.

--

"Other Animals, eh?  Well, I kinda like Woodstock and ol' Snoop.  I guess it wouldn't hurt to get some other animals in on the action.  Whatever happened to Frieda's cat? Actually, whatever happened to Frieda?"

--Taking a rest from Woodstock-hunting, Snoopy stumbles upon an empty cabin.  His time there is brief yet stupendous:  leg caught in the floorboards, lamp dies out, throat exchanges blood-curdling screams with a polite bear.  That's how you do filler, people.

--

Corn Pow?  Corn Pow.  We have reached the peak of fictional cereal names.  I still refer to Corn Pops as Corn Pow.  Even though one is yellow sugar nuggets and the other is brown sugar nuggets.  All flavor for your face. 

--The bullies lose the river raft race because they have to lose the river raft race; nefarious chicanery must never best heart and sportsmanship in the Peanuts world.  Charlie Brown will lose in life, and this is another "must," but he will lose only to his friends, his dog, or his dog's best friend.  No way these recalcitrant other kids are getting the best of him.

--I'd love to have this painted on the roof of my building.

SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE

--It does no good to ponder the logistics of the raft race.  Time, distance...don't try.

--I never summer-camped, but I once outdoor-schooled.  Don't recall much of it beyond that one night I peed the bed.  Almost as unbearable as the humiliation I faced from my peers was the wet chill I felt upon waking.  It was like lying on a popsicle.  A really stinky popsicle.

--The very sound of Charlie Brown's name amuses Jelly Belly Bully so immensely, he has to hold his face so's it doesn't drop onto the ground.

--Snoopy's idea of racing in a raft is lying back with your eyes closed.  The benefit of rafting while lying back with your eyes closed is looking super-cool.  The detriment of rafting with lying back with your eyes closed is the odds of crashing go up 300%.

--Speaking of which...the bullies should have died here.  In 1993, an eerily-similar accident took the lives of two major league pitchers.

--Peppermint Patty does not grasp simple concepts.  It's not that she has butter fingers--she doesn't even curl 'em up.  She used to think Snoopy was a kid, albeit one with a large honker.  Possibly her poor sleep patterns are to blame (her father works late, and nerves won't allow her to conk until he's home).  Maybe she really struggles without a strong mother-figure in her life.  Perhaps she has more freckles than IQ points.  At least she believes in the democratic process!

--The bullies tactics are more than devious--try deadly.  It's a minor miracle that the boulder shower didn't claim any casualties.


--

The owl from The Great Pumpkin sees his chance!

--

Charlie Brown is the Zodiac Killer.



The good news--Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown makes a fine addition to any discerning DVD collection.  The bad news--Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown has not yet been given an official DVD release.  That's simply bananas.  In the meantime, enjoy it on YouTube.

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